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23 April 2009 Edition

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Remembering the Past: Austin Stack


ONE of the foremost patriots in the history of County Kerry, Austin Stack, was born at Ballymullen, Tralee, in December 1879. His father was the Fenian, William Moore Stack, who served two terms of imprisonment for his political activities; his mother was active in the Ladies’ Land League.
Reared in a home imbued with Irish separatism, Austin Stack was to play a leading part in the republican struggle and the GAA in his native county. In 1904, he captained the Kerry team that won the All-Ireland football championship. He was president of the Kerry County Board of the GAA from 1918 to 1929.
Stack joined the Irish Republican Brotherhood in 1908. He took the lead in Kerry when the Irish Volunteers were founded in November 1913 and as commandant was given responsibility for the reception of the cargo of arms from Germany at Easter 1916. The Aud, carrying the German arms, arrived sooner than expected by Stack and the Kerry Volunteers and this, along with others factors, most crucially the Germans’ failure to equip The Aud with radio, led to the British capture of the arms.

When they learned that Roger Casement had landed from a German U-boat at Banna Strand, Stack and Con Collins set out from Tralee to pick him up but he had already been arrested by the RIC. Both Stack and Collins were arrested on their return to Tralee and sent to Spike Island. For Stack it was the first of many prisons in which he was held.
Austin Stack was court-martialled in Richmond Barracks, Dublin, and sentenced to penal servitude for life. Following the general release of prisoners in 1917, he returned to Kerry to reorganise the Volunteers and was again imprisoned on a charge of illegal drilling. In Mountjoy Prison, Stack led the hunger strike during which fellow Kerryman Thomas Ashe was killed by forcible feeding in September 1917.
At the Sinn Féin Ard Fheis in October 1917, Stack was elected honorary secretary, a position he held until his death. He was in Dundalk Prison at the time of the Ard Fheis and led another hunger strike which resulted in the release of the prisoners.
In April 1918, Stack was arrested and sent to Belfast Prison, Crumlin Road. The prisoners, with Stack again as their leader, won political status but this was gradually withdrawn. In December, after careful planning, including the storing of food and drink, 100 political prisoners staged a revolt and smashed up the prison, causing an estimated £7,000 worth of damage – a huge sum of money at the time. They were besieged by hundreds of RIC and British soldiers who were cheered on by a loyalist mob outside the walls.
After the Belfast riot, Stack was transferred to Strangeways Prison in Manchester. But he thwarted his jailers yet again when he escaped with five others in October 1919.

Stack was elected TD for Kerry in the First Dáil Éireann. He served as Minister for Home Affairs, organising the republican courts which replaced the British legal system. He later held the posts of Finance and Defence in the Second Dáil.
Following the Truce in July 1921, Stack was on the first Irish delegation to London led by de Valera. He described the duplicity of the British Government and told a friend he would give anything to “return to the military situation”. Stack strongly opposed the Treaty of December 1921. He undertook a speaking tour in the United States in early 1922 and, following the outbreak of the Civil War in June, was on the run in Ireland before his capture in Clonmel in April 1923. He endured a 41-day hunger strike and was released in July 1924.
Austin Stack remained with Sinn Féin after the departure of de Valera to form Fianna Fáil in 1926. He was re-elected to the Dáil in 1927. Weakened by his years of imprisonment and hunger strike, his health never recovered.
Austin Stack died in Dublin on 27 April 1929, 80 years ago this week.

An Phoblacht Magazine


  • The first edition of this new magazine will feature a 10 page special on the life and legacy of our leader Martin McGuinness to mark the first anniversary of his untimely passing.
  • It will include a personal reminiscence by Gerry Adams and contributions from the McGuinness family.
  • There will also be an exclusive interview with our new Uachtarán Mary Lou McDonald.

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